Animal cruelty is the cause du jour

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There is concern, and rightfully so, among many on today’s farms as outside influences converge to voice opinions on everything from long-standing ag business practices to animal treatment.
Yesterday, I spent a great deal of time talking to a man who I’ve known all my life. He has always been a full-time farmer, and people poke fun at him for treating his dairy cattle like pets.
But in spite of being chided for being a softie, even he is feeling the pressure from a changing society.
“It seems way too many people have an opinion about everything, and way too many of them are ready to pick a fight,” he told me.
Misunderstanding. He expressed concern about on-going animal cruelty cases springing up all over the country, and he feels certain that one recent case that he followed in the newspaper was founded upon a great deal of misunderstanding.
“I have a feeling there are people who might have a bone to pick with me if they knew I don’t take every single kitten that people dump here at my place to the vet. We’d go broke if we did that!” said this man, who asked to remain anonymous.
“I don’t want the wrath of those ASPCA people coming down on me!” he said, as he pushed his farm cap back further on his head.
I knew exactly where he was coming from. Our dairy farm was easily accessible and made a great spot for people to get rid of not only kittens, but often the mother cat, too. Our cat numbers could vary greatly from week to week.
Some of the newcomer cats were meek, some way too wild to ever hope to tame. Though it was an aggravating situation, we treated the growing feline population to warm milk and cat food, and Dad tried to appreciate the good mousers.
Personal experience. I remember one particular spring, preparing for a meeting with his banker, Dad was working on an inventory sheet at the kitchen table. He said he sure wished we could count cats as livestock on hand, since they were growing in large numbers without any investment on his part.
The inventory of cats became an issue when baby pigs started coming up missing from the farrowing house. While most of the cats stayed at the dairy farm, enjoying the steady supply of milk at the end of each milking, once in awhile an independent off-shoot gang would decide to set up headquarters at the adjoining hog farm.
Dad asked, “Did you do something with a baby pig from this pen?” and we each answered no. He asked us to start counting piglets each morning, afternoon and evening, and make a note of it. It was frightening to find that piglets were not turning up dead. They were simply vanishing.
Dad decided to do some surveillance work. It didn’t take long to witness the creepiest thing imaginable. One cat stealthily jumped into the area where the piglets were sleeping under the heat lamp and simply nabbed a tiny pink piglet, darting away with it in its mouth.
The entire crew of cats tore into it, ignoring the cat food in a nearby dish.
Decision. Now, there are some members of the ASPCA who would shudder in great disdain that my father made the decision every single one of those barn cats had to go, and I don’t mean to the local animal shelter.
Would those cats have made someone a fine house cat? Would they have adapted to any transplantation to any other setting? Or is this the kind of cat that some unsuspecting individual might have purchased at a shelter, taking it home in hopes of giving it a second chance, then finding sheer horror in any number of imaginable ways?
The possible “what ifs” make me shudder.
I realize this is a very small story in the larger scope of things. There are large animals involved in much larger stories, but the fact remains that no one can always know the whole story from the outside glancing in.
Sometimes, in any tale, it is simply impossible to grasp the entire story until you have lived it.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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